England’s mundane draw away in Montenegro has left fans of the Three Lions feeling rather flat, and with just cause. The result and all round performance has highlighted a number of worrying issues that have come to fruition under the mentoring of Roy Hodgson, and some things simply have to change.
The first major change that needs to occur is squad selection.
Manchester United players seem to be deemed in a more preferable light by Mr Hodgson, or so his recent squads have suggested. Chris Smalling, Tom Cleverley, Danny Welbeck, Michael Carrick and Wayne Rooney were all selected in the starting eleven to face Montenegro, which left many fans questioning whether there was a certain bias towards the Manchester side.
Michael Carrick has been consistently solid throughout his career, and has deserved his chance on the international stage for some time, whilst Wayne Rooney is arguably England’s best player. However do Smalling, Cleverley and Welbeck really deserve their chances in the national side?
Danny Welbeck burst on to the scene for Manchester United, scoring a wonder-goal against Stoke back in 2010, however since then, has done nothing to make you think ‘wow, what a player’, more often than not he manages to leave you thinking ‘wow, how is he a player?’. A solid game away at the Bernabeu, notching a good header against Real Madrid has meant that Roy Hodgson won’t look past his lone striker, although there are far better options. Welbeck has pace and strength, and never gives up. However, how long can we allow the criteria for an England starter to be ‘persistent’ and ‘solid trier?
In days of old, clinical scorers such as Matt Le Tissier and Ian Wright struggled to gain International recognition, and very few batted an eyelid. Yet now, the England team’s main attacking hope lies with Danny Welbeck, who has only ever scored 11 goals for his club despite being there since 2008. It’s simply not good enough.
There are very few centre-halves across the world that are going to be worried about facing the 22 year old, and this surely means that Hodgson has to look elsewhere. Daniel Sturridge is beginning to hit form for Liverpool, and offers a similar style of play to Welbeck, but with more of an end product. He is also more versatile, and can play out wide if needed.
Rickie Lambert is the highest English scorer in the Premier League, and his hold up play would be brilliant in terms of bringing Rooney and the wingers into the game. He is consistent, and a natural finisher and would offer a better option that Welbeck, yet he is yet to win an International cap.
A different option up-top when fit would be Theo Walcott. His sheer pace, trickery and direct running would have defenders running scared, and he has shown he can play anywhere along the front three. His hat-trick away at Croatia has shown he has the ability to spearhead the attack at International level.
Elsewhere, Smalling and Cleverley both have potential to be great players, but are simply not at the level just yet.
I agree with looking to the future, yet there needs to be a certain amount of experience in order to ensure that England see out the games and deal with the inevitable onslaught, especially away from home. We’ve seen it constantly since Hodgson took charge, bright starts from the side before coming under immense pressure and eventually buckling, Tuesday evening being another example.
With Gerrard and Lampard only having a very short amount of time left in an England shirt, the baton is being handed down to the new breed of centre-midfielder in the shape of Jack Wilshere. He is a class-act and a future captain of England, however if he is set to take over the dynamic centre-midfield role, he will need a calming influence who can sit in front of the back four, and allow Wilshere’s creative forward play to flourish.
Michael Carrick has the potential to do this for the next few years, and should definitely keep his place ahead of Cleverley who is a centre-midfielder, who is often played wide, out of position.
There has never really been competition for centre-halves until recently, with John Terry and Rio Ferdinand beginning to slowly ebb out of the International scene. Gary Cahill, Phil Jagielka, Joleon Lescott and Ryan Shawcross have all been selected there in recent times, and all have done a better job than Chris Smalling. However there is one player, who has never been given a chance for his country, yet deserves it ahead of the United pairing of Smalling and Jones.
That man is Steven Taylor.
The Newcastle United stalwart has been one of the most consistent centre-halves in the league for the last few seasons, and has incredible positional awareness. He has enough pace, strength and willingness to put his head into anything, to play at International level and deserves his place in the squad, alongside Gary Cahill. This would be the perfect mix of passion and experience and solidify the back four ahead of an important few months for English football and in particular Roy Hodgson.
The fact his side are currently rated fourth in the world, means expectations are higher than ever and comfortable qualification for the World Cup is the least England fans should be expecting. They don’t currently have a squad that should be able to challenge for the major prizes alongside Spain, Brazil, Germany etc, but given time they will become a force once more.
All that needs to happen is for squads to be chosen on merit and the correct balance of youth and experience to be employed.
Then the nation can begin to get excited about what the future may hold for English football.